“Outreach” Marketing for Freelancers

personal branding

If there’s one thing I don’t do enough of it’s SEO/blogging/marketing on my own sites. I hate writing content about or for myself. It’s hard and I’m often left staring at a half written page thinking “This is TRASH. Nobody is going to find this compelling enough to give me their project.”

That’s not to say I don’t rank well for keywords or that none of my business comes from my SEO efforts, because I do pretty well according to my marketing guy, Shane Powers, who you should talk to about that kinda stuff cause he’s lightyears ahead of me and I think I have decent marketing/SEO chops.

But there’s something way more powerful than SEO…

I had a discussion with Shane, just the other day about random marketing/SEO thoughts and we both agreed that there’s something to be said about old school marketing sometimes.

That something is building connections with potential clients. Before SEO businesses primarily connected with their clients offline, pushing them through a channel or phases (prospective, interested, etc), but they would often provide value way before any hard hitting sales pitch.

So I try to do the same.

Once a week I sit down and find an agency or web design company doing really awesome work, review over their site, find my favorite from their portfolio, and then contact them to let them know I dig their work — or even more bluntly.. that I would love to work on a project with them.

Sometimes I’ll suggest ways they could improve things – sometimes. I’m always a little weary of doing that as it could come off as an insult.

It converts really REALLY well

I don’t actively track this and maybe I should, but I’m pretty lazy and that involves more work I’m not willing to do… but I can firmly tell you that I know the conversion is often over 25%.

Sometimes it actually works too well and I accidentally overload myself or turn some work away if they can’t fit the project in my schedule.

Generally when I’m reaching out to these companies it’s for PSD to WordPress because they often already have in-house designers and the development team is overflowed with work usually.

You could probably taper off other marketing avenues and put more effort into “outreach” as I call it, I just wouldn’t suggest it. Building authority and a strong site with great content will keep you going and going.

Anyway, let’s get into how you do it…

Finding Prospective Clients

In my example, I’m targeting agencies that need help with overflow work, so there’s a whole bunch of ways to find them because they are out there marketing trying to get in front of people.. so they shouldn’t be hard to find.

Here’s a few places to get started looking:

  • Search Google
  • Read design blogs and see what sites are being promoted as hot.. now find out who built it!
  • Watch web design awards sites, lots of candidates are design / agency shops

Some Google terms you might try:

  • “City Web Design” replacing City with yours — or any really.
  • ”State Ad Agency” replacing State
  • ”Industry Marketing Agency” replacing Industry with ones you might be able to relate to, or have done work for in the past

There are other avenues you could try like job boards, but I haven’t had great luck with them. I’m not talking about freelance job boards or sites like Elance and Freelancer. I mean real legit job postings.

If someone is hiring then they probably have overflow of work, right? Approach them and see if they would like to save money by sending some of the work to you. ;)

Crafting Your Pitch

Your initial email and pitch is the foundation, because if you end up sounding like a door to door vacuum salesman, you’ve shot your chance and yourself in the foot.

Nobody wants to hear you run on about what you do without paying attention to anything they do or how you can provide value to what’s already being done.

Like I said earlier, I read about them and get an understanding of what they do and who they are doing it for.

Everybody loves praise

My emails are never the same since I write each one without a template or anything. But I’ll often start it out by introducing myself and and talking about a project they’ve done that I really like, sometimes even pointing out little details – especially the ones that look like someone spent a lot of time on.

I’ll then introduce myself with a short blurb and link to my site to learn more if they’re interested, while mentioning how I’d love to connect regardless if they need anything from me or not.

Then I go in for the kill.

I propose a time to chat and connect, if they’re local I’ll ask if I can stop by their office or if they would like to get out they can meet me for coffee, also proposing a time and place.

What this does is it leaves a call-to-action for them to respond to. I didn’t just leave them empty handed, I guided them to the next step.

From there it’s up to you to seal the deal, which usually isn’t hard, since you’ve established a connection between the potential client and yourself already.

Pro-tip: Mid week is usually pretty open for most people since you avoid the scramble of the beginning and end of the work week.


Ultimately, just being inventive in ways you find and reach out to potential clients, be genuine in your approach, and you will at least be memorable if not hook up some new work.

If you try this and have success.. I’d love to hear about it!


Photo credit: Stefano Principato via Compfight cc

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